Yahoo Wants to Take on Netflix, Amazon With Hit TV Show

Yahoo is said to be shopping for its own "House of Cards"—a show that can drive serious viewing traffic to the site.

Yahoo, under Marissa Mayer, has made streaming video a priority; but now, it wants a hit television show that can do for it what House of Cards—the political drama that in 2013 won three Emmy awards—has done for Netflix: Make it a video destination site.

Yahoo is "close to ordering four Web series," the Wall Street Journal reported April 6, citing people who have been briefed on the company's plans. Unlike in the past, Yahoo isn't looking for short-form Web content but "10-episode, half-hour comedies with per-episode budgets ranging from $700,000 to a few million dollars."

One source described Yahoo as wanting to "blow it out big time."

Mayer, Yahoo's CEO, plans to show off the programs to advertisers April 28, during a "NewFront" event, Yahoo's version of the "upfront" presentations TV networks make each spring.

Yahoo is also in early talks to purchase News Distribution Network (NDN), a video syndication service that supplies video clips to Websites and that would help Yahoo grow its video offerings. The Journal reported the news, which an NDN spokesperson refuted, March 31.

In September, Yahoo launched Yahoo Screen, a "video destination" that includes content from NBC Sports, Saturday Night Live Archives, South Park and The Daily Show. It has also made original programs—including the short animated series Electric City, with Tom Hanks—though nothing at the caliber of what it's said to be after.

Last year, Yahoo also hired away David Pogue from The New York Times to head Yahoo Tech and veteran news broadcaster Katie Couric to run Yahoo News.

In trying to lure more video viewers to its site, Yahoo will have plenty of competition. According to data from comScore (compiled by the Journal), in January, Google led the race, with 158 million viewers. Facebook, though not competing in the same way, had the next highest number of unique video viewers (85 million), followed by AOL (61 million), NDN (51 million), Yahoo (45 million), Vimeo (42 million), and then Amazon and Microsoft sites, with 39 million viewers, respectively.

Amazon is also working to bump its numbers, both with original content and its new Fire TV set-top box. Google released its Chromecast set-top box in July 2013, and Apple is rumored to be preparing a television that will offer access to streaming content and, like Fire TV, include voice activation.

The success of House of Cards has reinvigorated the Netflix brand, which was deeply damaged in 2011 following its botched transition from being mostly focused on DVDs to streaming content.

In less than three months, Netflix earned back nearly its entire $100 million investment in House of Cards, The Wire reported last April. The video service needed to add 520,834 new users over two years to break even on the show. But in just one quarter, it added 2 million new U.S. subscribers and another 1 million abroad.

Mayer has repeatedly said that video is one of Yahoo's key focus areas.

During Yahoo's January earnings call, she told analysts and investors, "With the right content, we can achieve scale on video and in particular mobile video."

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